After more than three decades of failing to meet climate targets, the federal government has released a new strategic plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) is being applauded by environmental groups across the country for its ambition and clarity, though it has also faced some criticism over its approach to reducing emissions in the oil and gas sector.

On Wednesday, editor-in-chief of Canada’s National Observer Linda Solomon Wood sat down with federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault at the Globe Forum on Climate Change in Vancouver. The following is an excerpt of their conversation.

LSW: First of all, congratulations on releasing the climate plan; it’s been widely praised as the best Canada has ever had. And yet, here we are in 2022, and we haven't seen any big change in carbon pollution. What would you say to a young person scaling the CN Tower to demand more in terms of climate action, as you did in 2001?

SG: Well, I think we need to do better. And that's certainly something we've heard loud and clear from Canadians. When we came into power in 2015, Canada had a target of reducing emissions by 30 per cent, but no plans, no measures. In fact, what we were seeing is that emissions were going upward to 2030.

And what we've done between 2016, when the first climate plan was presented, and 2019, which is the last year for which we have data in terms of carbon pollution in Canada, we've managed to reduce that upward curve by 30 million tonnes. Quebec emits 80 million tonnes every year, so that's significant.

So the curve, we've flattened it, and now our goal and our mandate and our responsibility is to make that curve go down quickly towards our 2030 goals.

LSW: Most people don't really have a picture of what this transition looks like in real life. Can you give us your favourite examples of the energy transition in action?

SG: It looks like homes that people have to pay less money to heat and cool, lower energy bills because we're putting in place a massive retrofit program and we're doubling down on it. Yesterday, we announced even more money, hundreds of millions more, for home energy retrofits.

We're also ensuring that the electricity we consume in Canada, whether it's at home, in our businesses, companies, in the industrial sector, that this electricity is greener and going towards net zero.

And that's one of the one little-known success stories in Canada. This sector is decarbonizing rapidly. Many years ago, we adopted a law to ban the production of electricity using coal in Canada. And although the target is to ban it by 2030, we're already seeing significant changes in the sector. So much so that the sector will reduce its carbon pollution by 87 per cent by 2030.

It's about transforming our transportation sector. We’ve put in place incentives to help people who want to transition to electric vehicles.

That's a popular program. More than 150,000 Canadians have benefited from that program. And we're adding $1.7 billion to it because there's so much interest and we know that these measures work.

B.C. and my home province of Quebec basically have three times the sales of electric vehicles than the Canadian average because these two provinces have put in place measures to help people do that.

What they've also done is they’ve said to car companies, we will force you to make more of these vehicles available for customers.

LSW: A question about subsidies: a major funding source that many European nations use to incentivize electric vehicles is the bonus-malus system. They charge people buying new gas guzzlers a big fee and use that money to make EVs cheaper. This goes double duty by making gas guzzlers more expensive and EVs cheaper, and it shifts some of the funding burden from general taxpayers to the people doing the most emitting. Is Canada planning to bring a similar system?

SG: We already have a surtax on luxury vehicles in Canada, so this is a tool we're using. We're using many other tools in the transportation sector. I mean, I spoke about the mandate to force car companies to produce in Canada and to make more electric vehicles. We're doubling our targets in terms of deploying charging stations across the country. Our previous target was 25,000. We're ramping it up to 50,000.

LSW: Right, and on Monday, the government allocated $19 billion for fighter jets, and the TMX pipeline is costing Canadians over $20 billion. How can Canadians believe climate change is really the priority if the federal government is spending just $9 billion on its climate plan?

SG: What we announced yesterday was $9 billion on top of $100 billion (previously allocated). We've all agreed that we're in the process of deploying record-level investment in Canadian history in transit, more than $30 billion dedicated to transit. As a climate activist, I could only dream of a federal government that would be working in partnership with provinces to invest in more transit.

Three hundred new transit projects are under construction as we speak, while more than 1,000 are in the process of being approved and being developed. We spoke about investment in electrification and a record level of investment in energy retrofits.

That's why I think Canadians can be confident. We can spend our way out of climate change, and our approach has been an approach of carrots and sticks. We've put in place one of the most ambitious carbon pricing systems in the world. And I'm not the one saying that, the International Monetary Fund is saying that we've put in place very ambitious regulations when it comes to methane emissions.

We are on track to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent by 2025.

We're doubling down, going to 75 per cent methane emission reduction by 2030, which is one of the most ambitious methane emission reduction targets in the world — and we're an oil and gas producer. It's hugely ambitious. So, it's about money, for sure. But we also have to use other tools in our toolbox, including legislation, including regulations.

And that's how I think we can get to where we need to go.

Editor's Note: We'll be releasing the lengthier conversation between Solomon Wood and Guilbeault soon. Be sure to check it out to hear what the minister told Linda about the Bay du Nord project, methane emissions, the forestry sector, biodiversity, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, and more.

"After more than three decades of failing to meet climate targets, the federal government has released a new strategic plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030."
I.e., after more than three decades of failing to meet climate targets, the federal government has released a new strategic plan to fail for another three decades.

Guilbeault: "So the curve, we've flattened it"
Canada's under-reported emissions were higher in 2019 (most recent data) than they were in 2015. The highest emissions total since 2008.
Canada's curve has been just about flat since the year 2000. The Liberals cannot truly claim to have flattened the curve, because it was already flat.
Guilbeault borrows Rachel Notley's line: No real reductions in absolute terms, but emissions will be lower than somebody's "business-as-usual" projection.
After scoring 35% on my math test, I begged my dad not to cancel my allowance: "I was projecting a score of 23%. So I did pretty well, actually."

While Canada's performance has grown no worse (not improved either) over two decades, our virtually unchanged contribution to atmospheric CO2 levels does make the climate problem worse.

Guilbeault: "So much so that the sector will reduce its carbon pollution by 87 per cent by 2030."

Canada's O&G industry grossly under-reports its emissions of all kinds. These numbers are fiction.
Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, but it's no improvement on the climate front if fugitive emissions exceed a low threshold.
As numerous studies using actual measurements show, methane emissions from O&G operations are far higher than reported.
"'Clean' natural gas is actually the new coal, report says" (CBC)
"New studies have shown there is significantly more fugitive gas than studies showed 5 years ago, and the gas is also a bigger contributor to climate change than was understood."
"Methane emissions from oil and gas operations around Red Deer, Alta., in November, 2016, were 15 times higher than the levels that they reported to the provincial govt, says a study in the journal, Elementa."
'If we thought it was bad, it's worse:' Alberta methane releases underestimated" (CBC, 2017)
Chan et al., "Eight-Year Estimates of Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Operations in Western Canada Are Nearly Twice Those Reported in Inventories", Environ. Sci. Technol., 2020
"Natural gas is a much 'dirtier' energy source than we thought" (National Geographic, 2020)
"Fracking boom tied to methane spike in Earth's atmosphere" (National Geographic, 2019)
"Explainer: Cleaner but not clean - Why scientists say natural gas won't avert climate disaster" (Reuters, 2020)
"Is Natural Gas Really Helping the U.S. Cut Emissions?" (Inside Climate News, 2020)
Magdalena M Klemun and Jessika E Trancik, "Timelines for mitigating the methane impacts of using natural gas for carbon dioxide abatement", 2019 Environ. Res. Lett.
Dave Risk, FluxLab, St. Francis Xavier Univ., Nova Scotia: "I know without a doubt that scientists in Canada and abroad have known probably for 20 years... that emissions were underestimated."
"FluxLab's latest paper, which involved measurements at 6,500 sites, found that Canada's methane emissions are about one-and-a-half times the official estimate.
"Another report just last year, by the govt's own scientists, found that methane emissions are about double the official estimate. That study relied on measuring methane in the atmosphere across the country."
"Canada's methane emissions are likely undercounted, and that makes them harder to cut" (CBC, 2021)

"Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, but it's no improvement on the climate front if fugitive emissions exceed a low threshold."
This is just the same kind of slanted misuse of numbers and words that you accuse the Minister of. You assert that natural gas is "no improvement" but without supplying a comparison of net carbon per unit of electrical energy produced that might justify this statement. Yes, natural gas is not a silver bullet, and hydro, wind and solar have a much lower carbon foot print, but does that justify trashing it as a bridge technology?

Read the articles.
If natural gas emissions exceed a certain threshold, burning natural gas instead of coal generates the same volume of GHGs or higher.

Climate change scientists and climate policy experts: "There is no evidence that LNG [from Canada] will replace coal in Asia. … LNG will also likely displace nuclear power, renewables, and natural gas from other sources in many importing countries. There are many locations where LNG consumption would be additional to coal consumption, instead of replacing it. Importantly, GHG emissions from fracking, transport, liquefaction, and regasification significantly reduce LNG's GHG benefits over coal.
"Unjustified adverse greenhouse gas impacts of the Pacific Northwest LNG proposal"

"Whether natural gas has lower life cycle GHG emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors. One recent study found that methane losses must be kept below 3.2% for natural gas power plants to have lower life cycle emissions than new coal plants over short time frames of 20 years or fewer."
"Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas" (Union of Concerned Scientists)
"Natural gas, long promoted as a "clean" alternative to other fossil fuels, may not be so clean after all. That's because its main ingredient, the potent greenhouse gas methane, has been leaking from oil and gas facilities at far higher rates than governmental regulators claim. A new study finds that in the United States, such leaks have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas, causing warming on par with carbon dioxide-emitting coal plants for two decades.
"…The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is presenting too rosy of a picture of natural gas emissions, understating industry methane leaks by approximately 60%."
"Natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal in the short term" (American Association for the Advancement of Science)

"More natural gas isn't a 'middle ground' — it's a climate disaster" (Vox, May 30, 2019)
Methane leakage may make natural gas as bad as coal, but it's not the reason gas has no future.
None of the five arguments against natural gas rely on any particular estimate of leakage. All of them would apply even if natural gas achieved zero leakage (which is impossible). The same is true regarding the local environmental impacts of natural gas production (air pollution, habitat loss, earthquakes) — they are dreadful, but even if they were eliminated, the following arguments would still apply:
1) Gas breaks the carbon budget
2) Coal-to-gas switching doesn't cut it
3) Bulk renewables can displace both coal and gas
4) Gas isn't needed for grid reliability
5) New natural gas infrastructure locks in carbon

"Green Myths Canada's LNG Sales Force Tells the World" (The Tyee)
"No, methane's no fix for global coal-fired energy. Here's why."
"One significant 2018 study measured methane leaks at 60 oil & gas sites near Red Deer, AB. It found emissions at ground level were 15x higher than industry reported to regulators and Canada's national inventory for tracking methane emissions."
"...David Hughes, one of Canada's foremost energy analysts, recently did the math on life cycle methane emissions from B.C. LNG and new coal plants in China. He found that 'best-technology coal would have 19.2% fewer emissions at 20 years than B.C. LNG.'
"In other words, 'B.C. LNG used to generate electricity in China compared to best-technology coal would increase global emissions, thereby exacerbating an already extremely serious climate problem.'"

A decades-long surge in natural gas does not align with global goals to keep warming below 2 C. If govts around the world implement strong climate policy, natural gas would have to decline within a decade or two. Not a real solution.

2014 study in Nature: "Market-driven increases in global supplies of unconventional natural gas do not discernibly reduce the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions or climate forcing."
"Limited impact on decadal-scale climate change from increased use of natural gas" (Nature)

I don't care how "good" the Liberals SAY the plan is, or that various critics say it's a step forward, it's basically greenwashing and essentially useless. First of all it's not a plan (at best it's a rough idea of intent and open to all sorts of compromises and workarounds) therefore not significantly better than all the other achieve nothing exercises of recent decades.

There must be a withdrawal of all the subsidies for the O&G industry. Spend the money on renewables, transition of O&G workers and EV charging infrastructure.

I strongly believe in economic incentives as the only really effective way to get change. On that note the EV incentive/ICE disincentive of the Bonus-Malus system is a perfect example that should be adopted in Canada. I note the Minister totally ignored the question of whether this is contemplated (I get SO TIRED of politicians being allowed to avoid answering direct questions!!!). As to the carbon tax ... it's too low (relative to Europe) and I fail to see how anyone can say it's to be lauded. Carbon capture and storage is a pie in the sky waste of money and any support for it ignores the science. It doesn't have a chance of ever being a useful tool and any "plan" that has it as a major element is a bad plan. Finally, any plan that doesn't disallow expanding fossil fuel infrastructure is a sham (I'm looking at you LNG Kitimat, Coastal gas Link and Trans Mountain pipelines, ...).

Andy, I agree 100%. You said it well. If it's extracted( transported) IT WILL BURN.

With over thirty years in project management I know that a plan is only part of the story. I still don't see a complete plan here because there is too much aspirational magical thinking, like they are remnants of a brainstorming exercise. How many politicos have actually invited independent assessments of their plans -- or should I say outlines of plans? Even people like Preston Manning issue the term "the transition" (acknowledging climate mitigation as a sop) usually couched as somewhere in the future and without the foggiest about what a genuine Transition Plan really is.

Once a plan is developed beyond a list of goals and objectives, you've still got to move into writing specifications and detailed construction / implementation documents in order to build the project to acceptable standards. Plans are great for working out details on paper but they are also susceptible to be shelved or hacked into pieces later, and never realized.

The minister talked about funding transit, but these are usually one-off politically beneficial projects that haven't evolved from a holistic concept of urbanism. What is really needed is a long term guaranteed annual federal funding for cities to improve the efficacy of public infrastructure with climate being a top criteria.

The feds and provinces suck cities dry of the tax revenue generated within them, then have the gall to return only 8 cents on the dollar while expecting cities to continue being the cash cows of the nation and spending more than their 8 cents in transit (and other) projects. If cities went on a tax revolution to keep, say, 15% or 20% of the tax revenue in order to better serve their public -- who are, after all, the same body of constituents, the country's pubic finances would collapse.

Provinces are not off the hook either. Doug Ford monkeyed with the municipal electoral system out of revenge over a municipal election loss. BC's Christy Clark took revenge on Vancouver for defeating her in an urban riding, thus forcing her to go deep to the Interior. Her arrogant mistreatment of the big city by forcing it an no other city to have a referendum on a transit funding increase, as well as issuing condescending comments from her position with follow up by several of her suburban and rural ministers cost her nine urban ridings and an election. It was first federal government under Trudeau and the first provincial government under Horgan that upped federal transit share funding after transit stalled in favour of suburban freeways under Clark's tenure.

Cities are where climate action and the demand for fossil fuels will be destroyed more than anywhere else. Metro Vancouver comprises literally half of the BC economy. The BC Municipal Act must be modernized to bring it out of the 19th Century. And the feds need to work around the Constitutional clauses that make cities the exclusive creatures of the provinces and find ways to work directly with cities on climate mitigation without stimulating a constitutional challenge.

The minister has lots of indirect funding and tax policies but not nearly enough direct funding for major projects. Cities need more clarity in federal climate policy. Where will EV charging networks lead? To cities. What demand locus will will a national smart grid serve? Cities. Where does the majority of the population, knowledge and finance activity reside? Cities.

The plan is more of an outline. We need so much more and quickly.